At a time when momentous events are taking place in the Muslim world, it may puzzle some that we at UmmahPulse are harping on about Haskala and reformation. Well, the truth is that the two are linked in more ways than meet the eye, something that I will come back to later.
Those of you who read the JumahPulses regularly will have noticed that there is an on-going debate in the comments section on the website regarding our recent choice of topics. While some have welcomed our courage in tackling difficult issues to do with reformation, others have accused UmmahPulse of choosing easy targets (e.g. Sarah Joseph) as opposed to towering figures like Tariq Ramadan, who was the inspiration behind the conference held in Oxford called Rethinking Islamic Reform.
The pre-conference hype greatly raised expectations in some circles in respect of the impact they hoped the event would have. As one organiser put it, “It will change the world,” and another hopeful chimed in with, “We need more than small talk”. In fact, the world media, although present in full force on the night, decided by and large to ignore the conference. Here at UmmahPulse we chose not to cover it because it turned out to be an oversold tempest in a teacup.
However, events in the last few weeks have caused us to reconsider our decision. Apart from the accusations of timidity on the forums, our concerns over the activities of Mr Ramadan were heightened with the airing of a BBC TV programme, in which he issued a fatwa to a confused Muslim couple who used to be leading lights in the Islamic Society of Britain. The fatwa not only contravened major aspects of usūl al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence) but also had the potential to corrupt believers’ faith in the fairness of Divine Judgement. He told the couple that they could ignore the explicit verses of the Quran in the interests of “fairness” and grant their daughters and son equal shares in their inheritance. According to Ramadan, this was because the “context had changed” and they could only follow the Quranic injunction (that sons get twice the share of daughters) if the son provided a guarantee that he would take financial responsibility for his sisters for the rest of their lives. In addition, by relying on a hadith that is not applied in the fiqh of inheritance, he made the couple alter unnecessarily their shared ownership of the family home.
We therefore decided to warn people about Mr Ramadan and his deviancy. We knew this would cause a stir in some circles and, judging from some of the comments we have received, it took some people by surprise.
The reason for the shock is that the image of Mr Ramadan over the last six years has been managed quite well by a diligent network of supporters. They promote him in the Muslim community as a superstar Muslim intellect who is beyond reproach. This, of course, is easy in a media-driven society where anyone can become famous merely for being famous, especially if you have published 20 books (packed with postmodernist mumbo-jumbo) and have a host of academic titles and magazine accolades to your name. These credentials raise you close to sainthood in the eyes of many, particularly if no one in the community raises serious questions.
Tariq Ramadan’s meteoric rise to fame in the Muslim community has not been plain sailing. Although he had become the darling of the Western media years ago, the Muslims in the West, as Mr Ramadan himself acknowledges, did not want anything to do with him initially. It was only when his visa to the USA was revoked in 2004, and he was seen as a victim of American oppression, that he earned sympathy and acceptance within Muslim circles. Ironically, he now lectures Muslims on how not to see themselves as victims.
A Refined Campaign to Deconstruct and Reform Islam
Nowadays, Mr Ramadan gives the impression that in the Muslim community it is only those with “highly traditionalist” or “salafi literalist” approaches that disagree with him.
In the early days his message was clear and blunt. The ‘ulama (Islamic scholars) were to be ignored, traditional learning (including that taught at al-Azhar) was useless and all the ‘ulama in the world were inept because they were people of texts and ignorant of contexts. He was right and everyone else was wrong – and to prove it, all Muslim countries needed to sign up to his global moratorium on hudud (capital punishment) or be forever condemned as backward and barbaric. Obviously, he did not anticipate the ferocity of the response to such bold posturing.
Leaving aside the “traditionalists” and the “salafis”, even the so-called moderate scholars came down on him like a ton of bricks. For example, the famous Dr Taha Jaber al-Alwani – who can neither be accused of being unfamiliar with modern contexts (he has been settled in a career in the West since 1983), nor intellectually inept so as to be unable to understand the true meaning of the moratorium – was so outraged at the cheek of Mr Ramadan in issuing such a call that he wrote:
“Fabricating lies against the Muslim nation is unacceptable, be it done by an individual or a group. Moreover, such a fabricator or alleger against the Muslim nation is deemed wrong, regardless of the validity of his point of view. Dr Tariq should have referred such an issue to specialized men of religion and institutions, namely the Muslim jurisprudents and scholars and Islamic fiqh academies, instead of changing the issue into a media topic that preoccupies Muslims. This religion consists of belief and Shari’ah (Islamic Law), and the latter is application of the former. The difference between Shari’ah and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is that Shari’ah is set by Allah; whereas fiqh is the human comprehension of Shari’ah. In addition, religion has been perfectly completed by the message of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Thus, religion is not incomplete, neither in belief nor in Shari’ah, that some individual or group comes today to allege that they are going to complete it.
“The success achieved by Shari’ah in forming our culture, mentality, and tradition changed it into part of our identity. So, any trial to separate us and Shari’ah means that there is a plot to efface our identity, culture, and tradition. There is not a believer, believing in Allah, His Messenger and the Last Day, who can support such a plot or claim that we Muslims are in no longer need of Shari’ah. There is a common misconception among some people as regards the comprehensive meaning of Shari`ah – that includes acts of worship, dealings, and morals, and penalties. This made some people, due to their ignorance, refer to Shari’ah as penalties or penal law. This is, in fact, a very limited perception that shows their lack of understanding of both fiqh and Shari’ah… The proposal of deactivating the Islamic legal penalties today is a trial to remove the barriers between liberalism and Muslim man, for the purpose of getting belief and Shari’ah out of his mind… Destruction of Islamic Law (Shari’ah) has always been a target, for our enemies are aware that Shari’ah is the real obstacle in their destructive schemes. So it is by no means acceptable or reasonable that one of the members of the Muslim nation comes today to fabricate allegations that contribute to the demolition of the nation…” (To read the full article and the views of other scholars please visit the comments section of our last JumahPulse.)
There were many other moderate scholars who also severely criticised his action. Their articles condemning him were published on the Islamonline website in 2005 but in the years since, many have mysteriously disappeared from the site. Recent events may offer an explanation.
These sharp rebuttals seem to have caused Mr Ramadan to rethink his strategy. In the Oxford conference he went to great lengths to convince the audience of his “Azhari credentials”:
“When I went to Egypt to study – because it was not possible and I think also that in the future Western Muslims should have institutions in the West – but I went to Egypt, and I was with scholars. In fact, there is something common in our journey too, to Islamic knowledge. I was born and raised in the west and going back to Egypt for example (it was in Egypt for me), I went to traditional one-to-one courses with scholars, and what I wanted is to get the knowledge, and what we call in the traditional way of teaching ijazaat.”
This gives the impression that he sees merit in doing what he did but if one reads his earlier writings, his true feelings about the traditional way of learning are quite the opposite. If fact, he is fascinated with the analysis of the Masonic, neo-Mu’tazilite Muhammad Abduh. In his book, To be a European Muslim, Ramadan quotes extensively from Abduh in his chapter called “Prospects for contemporary Ijtihad“:
“The movement, born more that 200 years ago, has provoked consistent disruption with the traditional religious curricula in the great Islamic universities of the Muslim World. Even if the improvements are not visible, one can witness important changes since Muhammad Abduh expressed deep criticism against the ‘old, fusty and useless teaching of al-Azhar’ for instance. ‘If today I have some knowledge that can be mentioned, it is only due to my efforts, during more than ten years, to try to clean up my mind from the dirt and rubbish al-Azhar put into it. So far, I have not been able to reach the cleanliness I wished for’” (Ramadan, T, To Be A European Muslim (1999), p.93).
He tries to gloss over these quotes in the paragraphs that follow but one cannot help but ask why he would quote such vile statements in his book about traditional learning unless he himself has some sympathy with them.
The fact that he now routinely goes to great lengths to convince people of his links with traditional learning form scholars of al-Azhar can only be seen in the light of expediency. Following the shock caused by questions that were raised about his credentials when he called for a moratorium on hudud, it became clear that without such qualifications, no one would listen to him. Therefore the world was offered a half-baked narrative about intensive one-to-one studies with shuyukh at al-Azhar for a period of less than two years.
Arabic Language Incompetence
A basic pre-requisite for the study of advanced texts with shuyukh is proficiency in Arabic, and I do not mean the Arabic spoken in the streets of Cairo. In the Arab world, when people say “someone knows Arabic”, it means he is competent in fushaa (classical Arabic). Without this, one cannot even begin to grasp the subjects Mr Ramadan has claimed to have studied in great depth at the feet of al-Azhar’s senior scholars.
The sad truth is that Mr Ramadan has repeatedly been observed to have little or no expertise in classical Arabic. For example, in the Oxford conference he demonstrated his utter ignorance of the language. Every first year student of Arabic would be able to distinguish between the transitive and intransitive forms of verbs they use. The verb fasada is intransitive and in order to use it in transitively, it must be placed in the form of af’ala (i.e. afsada). This is basic morphology that every student should know. Yet Mr Ramadan appeared completely oblivious to this rule when, in an attempt to quote a hadith, he said, “fasadahaa” to mean “people corrupting the shariah”. Such obvious incompetence in the use of basic Arabic while claiming to have studied the complicated texts of usul al-fiqh in Arabic is revealing.
Referring to a Hadith That Does Not Exist
The hadith to which Mr Ramadan was attempting to refer was quoted as the foundation for the entire discussion by the first speaker, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson. The terms din (religion), sunnah (example) and shari’ah (way) have different meanings in Islam. There are ahadith similar to the one mentioned in the conference with the word din and the word sunnah but there is no hadith of the sort mentioned with the word “shari’ah”. In other words, I could not find any hadith that says that Allah will send someone at the turn of every century to renovate the shari’ah or that the ghuraba (strangers) will renovate the shari’ah, which is what it appears the speakers were attempting to say.
This is significant because attention to detail in hadith is required of scholars in general but especially when they are attempting to reform or renovate the religion in deviation from received traditions. Each term has specific connotations. There is a big difference between tajdid (“renewal”) of din or sunnah and the tajdid of the shari’ah.
Corruption of the din and sunnah predominantly arises from the general public in the form of neglect and carelessness, whereas a corruption of the shari’ah is predominantly linked to the custodians of the shari’ah, that is the ‘ulama, who are the inheritors of the prophets.
However, when we look at the prophecies relating to the corruption of the knowledge of the shari’ah, we find the opposite to this scenario. The Knowledge and Guidance will remain protected through divine providence until such time that Allah decides to take it away from the world. He will do so by bringing about the death of ‘ulama in whose hearts this Knowledge is preserved. Then the ignorant would be taken as scholars and they would mislead people and be misguided themselves, i.e. having corrupted the shari’ah. When this happens, no human being will have the power to rectify it – not even with all the libraries of the world at his disposal.
Removing the Authority of the ‘Ulama
It might seem quite innocent to suggest, as Mr Ramadan did in Oxford, that there is a need to “shift the centre of gravity of authority in Islam”. He wants to set up councils to discuss matters of fiqh and usul al-fiqh, where the centre of gravity of authority no longer rests with the ‘ulama, which is where Allah and his Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) have placed it. He wants the ‘ulama to share their position and authority with experts in the fields of contexts, with thinkers and intellectuals. As part of this new structure of authority he also said that “we need sometimes people who are not Muslims,” i.e. in the fiqh councils.
Now, let’s put this into perspective. Imagine if someone were to say to the judges of this country that there must be a shift in the centre of gravity of their authority and that, from now on, they would have to share their authority with expert witnesses that serve in their courts. They would no longer be able to make independent rulings on the basis of information provided by expert witnesses, rather the witnesses would now have to share in the authority of determining the ruling. The response would be, “Have you taken your medicine today, sonny?”
However, when it comes to Islam and Muslims, we are all too willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone posing as a scholar, which is indicative of the level of concern we have for our souls compared with for our physical bodies. We would never allow a man who says he did a two-year crash course in surgery to perform heart surgery on us but with our imaan, it matters not if he is a neo-Mu’tazilite who says:
“I believe we must now return to the sources of the fundamentals of law and jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) and question the original categorizations and methodologies.” (Ramadan, T., What I Believe, Oxford University Press (2010), p. 85)
Let us ask ourselves: who were the people who set the foundations of those categorisations and formulated those methodologies? They were the likes of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Al-Shafi’i. To suggest that Mr Ramadan, or any other televangelist Muslim today, possesses the knowledge and skill to deconstruct the works of Imam Abu Hanifa and Al-Shafi’i is beyond arrogance. It is delusional and whoever chooses to follow such misguidance will have much cause for regret.
I do not blame people for falling prey to this pretentious charade. It is cleverly done. Mr Ramadan criticised the‘ulama for having no insight into and ignoring the “psychology of fatwa”. I think the psychology of his rhetoric deserves some scrutiny. If you sit and listen to a 45 minute lecture in which a lecturer tells the you, the audience, 43 times that what he is saying to you about your religion is “quite important” or “very important”, then it is highly likely that you would go away with the impression that this person is indeed “important” to your faith.
This is exactly what Mr Ramadan did in the Oxford conference. In almost each minute of his presentation, the audience was told “this is important” or “this is very important”. The other psychological stunt he employed was to over-emphasise the presence of ikhtilafaat (differences of opinion among scholars) to such a degree as to suggest that the concept of ijma’ (consensus) is non-existent in Islam.
He also attempted to pre-empt criticisms. “This was not to please the West,” he protested repeatedly but he offered no explanation as to why his entire prescription dovetailed perfectly with the wishes and aspirations of Western orientalists. “I do not want to reform Islam”, “I am not touching Islam”, “I am just touching the minds”, he declared, yet his proposal is for a new a structure of authority and a new usul in which the fundamentals of jurisprudence would be deconstructed to conform to the so-called “new modern ethic” which, by and large, is Western.
Changing the laws of inheritance that are unambiguous in the Quran without any justification pushes believers not only beyond the boundaries of halal and haram but also into confusion and doubt at a time when Muslims are being targeted from all angles. It is a time when they need support and fortitude in faith and certainly do not need their faith to be undermined by references to imaginary notions of a “superior universal ethics” positioned over and above Revealed Guidance. Allah says in the Quran:
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ ۗ وَمَن
يَعْصِ اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُّبِينًا
“It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any opinion or choice in the matter. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error.” (33:36)
The Mu’tazilites were a deviant group of rationalists who appeared in the latter part of the first century of Islam. The core of their deviancy was in prioritising human intellect over and above Revealed Wisdom. Their reappearance in the late 19th Century was influenced by colonialism and Freemasonry.
One need only look at the graph on page 38 of Mr Ramadan’s book, To Be A European Muslim, to see that he has an agenda to continue the work that was started by the Neo-Mu’tazilite activists of the 19th century.
He classifies the period between 1258 and 1870 as a period of “stagnation and decline” for the Muslim world. 1870 onwards he deems to be the period of “reassertion of ijtihad”. Muhammad Abduh was born in 1849 and 1871 was the year when Jamal Al-Din al-Afghani entered Egypt. Mr Ramadan’s neutral description of his activities is revealing:
“As revealed by Abduh, he [Afghani] developed in his students a practical inclination: he encouraged them to engage in the publication of magazines, to put in motion a current of opinion and to join, like he himself did, the Masonic lodges of French inspiration.” (Tariq Ramadan, Aux Sources du Renouveau musulman, D’al-Alfghani a Hassan al-Banna un siecle de reformisme islamique, Paris 1998, p. 54)
After six years in exile from British Egypt (1882-1888), Muhammad Abduh returned to Cairo and soon became Shaykh al-Azhar.
Similarly, Mr Ramadan’s six year ban (2004-2010) from the United States also boosted his profile (among Muslims in the West), and whereas it is now proven through several academic studies that Abduh served in the office of al-Azhar as a loyal servant to his Masonic masters, we do not know who is behind the scenes of the antics we have so far witnessed from Mr Ramadan. All we know is that when given the chance, he has always remained keen to police the thoughts of Muslims in a way that is comforting and consistent with particular Western sensibilities, even when those thoughts seem pretty banal and entail no adverse consequences for Muslims. The coincidences are numerous and I will leave you with one more example:
For Mr Ramadan, “Muslim countries” may no longer be referred to as “Muslim countries” because that may – God forbid – inadvertently imply the non-existence of minorities in those countries, which is concerning to Westerners. Therefore, all Muslim countries must be re-named “Muslim majority countries”, i.e. Muslims are merely a majority but the country cannot be labelled “Muslim”. Muslims merely happen to be there in large numbers, whereas to say “Muslim country” could also mean Islamic and that is to be avoided. It is unsurprising that, so far, he has failed to show a similar enthusiasm in demonstrating his creativity to find new demographically-conscious names for Western countries. How about “Muslim minority countries”?
If some people remain inclined to give Mr Ramadan the benefit of the doubt, after all that has been said here, simply because he is the grandson of Hasan Al-Banna (r.a.), then please spare a moment to reflect on the shocking revelation he recently made to the journalist Benjamin Pauker of Foreign Policy Magazine: “I grew up in a very liberal family. I was left alone to decide whether to pray or not to pray” (Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb 2011). Lineage has no value when one is disconnected from one’s heritage. Moreover, he is not the first deviant in the family. His great uncle, Jamal Al-Banna (brother of Hasan Al-Banna), is infamous for his deviant writings and for appearing on Egyptian TV issuing all sorts of errant fiqh rulings on inheritance, criticising‘ulama, delegitimising hijab, promoting free mixing and kissing between the sexes, etc. The difference between him and Mr Ramadan is that in Egypt, Jamal al-Banna, thanks to the diligence of the ‘ulama in challenging him, is seen as a delusional Walter Mitty character and ignored by everyone. In Europe however, the nephew’s peddling of old Mu’tazilite ideas repackaged in postmodernist mumbo-jumbo is being taken seriously by some as gems of the mujaddid of the century.
Some might say: why can’t we just agree to disagree? I would have been a proponent of this approach myself in circumstances other than those in which we find ourselves today. As distant as they may seem, the events in Egypt within the last few weeks are intricately linked to this discussion. Western governments are hoping for a reformation of Islam in the Muslim world and the successes they have witnessed with the likes of Tariq Ramadan and others in the West have raised their hopes and plans to suit. Where, in the past, reforming Islam was merely a dream, nowadays Tariq Ramadan and his followers are examples to be brought to the fore to embolden those who once thought it was impossible. If Egypt, which is at the heart of the Arab world, can be changed then the rest of the Muslim world would be a breeze.
The person the West has prepared for this task Egypt is Dr Ayman Nour, who personifies their aspirations. He possesses all the necessary characteristics and ambitions. From his book, Yawmiyyaat Sahafi Mushagib, published in 2000, one is able to understand why in 2005, while the USA was using Egypt for extraordinary renditions and torture, Condoleezza Rice cancelled a visit to Cairo in protest when Nour was arrested.
The so-called revolution in Egypt was nothing more than a well-managed role rotation to facilitate the entry of the “right kind of people” who will implement large scale “social reform” (which is diplomatic speak for reforming Islamic practices). Such a project requires people with a genuine mandate, something that Mubarak did not possess, so he had to go. This is what is meant by “turning volatility into opportunity for reform”. I expect that in the days and months to come, we will see more and more of Ayman Nour and the young activists with ties to the US who will seek to turn Egypt into something that would have made Muhammad Abduh and his Masonic masters very pleased. The vision is of a 21st Century (Egyptian) Ataturk who, with the help of his “young turks” (“young Masrees”), will create a constitution so intensely secular that Islam will have little or no room to breathe, let alone influence policy.
The likes of Tariq Ramadan and all those who are calling for a full scale reformation are implicated in this global onslaught against Islam. They provide succour and encouragement to the people in Western corridors of power who hold ambitions that stretch far beyond “democratic elections”.
يُرِيدُونَ أَن يُطْفِئُوا نُورَ اللَّـهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَيَأْبَى اللَّـهُ إِلَّا أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ
“They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” (Quran 9:32)
ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
Allah says: “Then We placed you on an ordained way (shari’ah) concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” [Quran 45:18]
Imam Abdul Malik al-Juwayni (d. 478 H.) said: “Ijma’ is the strap and support of the Shari’ah.”
Imam al-Sarakhsi (d. 490 H) said: “One who denies the validity of ijma’ seeks to indirectly demolish the religion itself.”
Imam Ibrahim ibn Maysarah (d. 132H) said, “Whoever honours an innovator has aided in the destruction of Islam.”
Imam al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad (d. 187H) said, “I met the best of people, all of them people of the sunnah and they used to forbid accompanying the people of innovation.”
Imam al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110H) said, “Do not sit with the people of innovation and desires, nor argue with them, nor listen to them.”
The Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said: “Whoever innovates or accommodates an innovator then upon him is the curse of Allah, His Angels and the whole of mankind.” (Bukhari (12/41) and Muslim (9/140)).
According to Time Magazine, Tariq Ramadan is one of the biggest innovators of the 21st Century. We have reason to concur.
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